REVIEWS: 2009 Volkswagen GLI

December 28, 2009
0912 01 Z+2009 Volkswagen GLI+front View
With the subtle upgrades the Volkswagen GTI saw for 2010, I was expecting a little more from the Jetta GLI. The GLI may sound like a sedan version of the hot GTI, but it's saddled with the Jetta's rather squishy suspension and brakes. I still love any VW/Audi car powered by the 2.0T engine, although my love isn't quite as strong when the rest of the vehicle doesn't live up to what the engine can do.
I suppose that the softer suspension widens the appeal of a car like the GLI, which would otherwise sell in even lower numbers than it already does. VW also has a strong aftermarket following, so it isn't unreasonable to assume there's a suspension kit that can be ordered to improve the car's handling with relative ease.
I was most impressed by Volkswagen's new navigation unit. The display is very crisp and the font looks quite modern, which is a huge contrast to the rather cheap-looking standard radio we had in our Four Seasons Jetta TDI. The GLI's unit can also give warnings about congested roadways, but the warnings it gave me didn't make much sense, as traffic was still moving around 80 mph where it indicated congestion.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
0912 03 Z+2009 Volkswagen GLI+side View
0912 03 Z+2009 Volkswagen GLI+side View
A few thousand dollars can make all the difference in the sport-compact segment. Whereas the GTI hits the sweet spot for about $24,000, this GLI and its less impressive suspension doesn't make that strong case for itself at $25,470. Not when you can get a more frenetic Honda Civic Si sedan for less money.
OK, so not everyone is looking to squeeze every last drop of performance out of their dollar, and the GLI does excel in other areas, such as refinement, comfort, and practicality (check out its huge trunk). But if that's what you're after, why not opt for a Jetta TDI? The oil-burning Jetta offers just as many grins behind the wheel as this GLI -- don't let those acceleration figures fool you -- and has the added benefit of stellar fuel economy. I'd also add that it's available for 2010 with all the GLI's suspension and brake upgrades.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
0912 01 Z+2009 Volkswagen GLI+front View
0912 02 Z+2009 Volkswagen GLI+side View
I've always had respect for the Volkswagen Jetta GLI, probably because my first car was a 1989 Mark 2 Jetta GLI Helios edition. It had a dark blue exterior with color-matched fifteen-inch BBS wheels, a bright blue interior with Recaro seats, and a 1.8L 16V four-cylinder engine with 180,000 miles. An aftermarket exhaust and a lead foot resulted in the car's nickname "German Thunder" from my high-school buddies, but enough about me.
The fifth-generation GLI is a much more laidback car with far less in-your-face styling. It is completely opposite of the Mark 4 GLI that featured a factory body kit, lowering springs, and bright silver eighteen-inch BBS wheels. The current GLI shares many parts with its GTI blood relative, including the wheels, brakes, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, and six-speed manual transmission or optional DSG dual-clutch automatic. A lot of praise has been given to this engine and rightfully so; it's an absolute workhorse. It provides great torque off the line and has enough high-end power to slice through traffic on the freeway, all while getting 31 mpg. Our test unit is equipped with the six-speed manual transmission and has very good clutch takeup, much heavier feel than our recently departed Four Seasons Jetta TDI. The interior is nicely situated and is very user-friendly.
The Jetta GLI is a great alternative for buyers who want GTI performance but don't want a hatchback.
Mike Ofiara, Road Test Coordinator
0912 03 Z+2009 Volkswagen GLI+side View
Obviously, the Jetta-based GLI isn't as nimble as the lighter, Golf-based GTI, our two-time Automobile of the Year. Nonetheless, the GLI is one fun car, and I think it's underrated. The GTI is truly great and deserving of all of its awards, but as a family man, I'd prefer the more spacious and slightly less nervous GLI.
0912 01 Z+2009 Volkswagen GLI+front View
The only problem is that after analyzing the specs, I'm not so sure that the GLI really does have more space. Both cars share a 101.5-inch wheelbase, but the GLI trades the GTI's hatch for a spacious trunk, which adds more than a foot to the car's length, not to mention more than 200 pounds to the curb weight. What's more, Volkswagen says that the GTI has a hair legroom in the back seat, versus the GLI. Cargo volume in the GLI rated markedly higher and your luggage is more secure, but you lose the GTI's hatchback versatility. The GLI does have larger rear doors, though, which are very important for loading kids into the back.
The GLI we tested was heavily optioned, but a bare-bones GLI costs less than $700 more than a base four-door GTI. The choice for the hard-core is still "GTI," but a family guy like me might not mind carrying around the GLI's couple-hundred extra pounds and consequent fuel-mileage compromise for the benefits of the bigger rear doors and separate luggage compartment.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
0912 03 Z+2009 Volkswagen GLI+side View
No, this certainly isn't a GTI sedan, as Phil pointed out, but the Jetta is such an easy car to like. It's supremely stylish, provides comfortable accommodations for passengers front and rear, and comes with an extensive list of standard features all for a base price of less than $26,000. The 200-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four is such a great powerplant and it really adds a lot of character to this somewhat staid vehicle. It's really peppy and a lot of fun especially when matched to the smooth 6-speed manual. But, like my colleagues, I find it disappointing that the Jetta's suspension can't match this engines performance. Give this car the GTI's suspension and perfect brake and steering feel and Volkswagen would have a true competitor to the excellent Mazda3.
0912 02 Z+2009 Volkswagen GLI+side View
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
0912 03 Z+2009 Volkswagen GLI+side View
0912 01 Z+2009 Volkswagen GLI+front View
2009 Volkswagen GLI
Base price (with destination): $25,470
Price as tested: $29,865
Standard Equipment:
Front side airbags
Daytime running lights
Tire pressure monitoring system
Leather wrapped steering wheel
In-dash 6-disc changer with auxiliary audio input
Sirius satellite radio with 6-month subscription
Xenon headlights with fog lights
Options on this vehicle:
Autobahn package - $2405
Leather sports seats
Sunroof
DVD satellite navigation - $1990
Key options not on vehicle:
DSG dual-clutch transmission - $1100
18-in. wheels - $750-2300
Fuel economy:
(city/hwy/combined)
21 / 31 / 25 mpg
Engine:
Size: 2.0L turbocharged and intercooled DI I-4
Horsepower: 200 hp @ 5100-6000 rpm
Torque: 207 lb-ft @ 1800-5000 rpm
Drive:
Front-wheel
Transmission:
6-speed manual
Weight: 3290 lb
Wheels/tires:
17 x 7 in. wheels
225/45 summer performance tires
Competitors: Mazdaspeed3, Chevrolet Cobalt SS sedan, Honda Civic Si sedan
0912 03 Z+2009 Volkswagen GLI+side View

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